Bud Team Scores Solid Top-Five Effort at Charlotte Kahne adds to series-high win total Looking to make a statement of solid Chase contention, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...
Bud Team Scores Solid Top-Five Effort at Charlotte
Kahne adds to series-high win total
Looking to make a statement of solid Chase contention, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team led 37 laps and finished fourth in the Bank of America 500 Saturday night at a frigid Lowe's Motor Speedway. It is Dale Jr.'s best finish in the 2006 Chase, and it moves him up one spot in the standings to fifth, 106 points behind leader Jeff Burton and four points behind fourth-place Mark Martin. Kasey Kahne was the dominator Saturday night, leading 134 of the 334 laps to earn his series-high sixth win and claim the Charlotte sweep. Jimmie Johnson finished second and Burton third. The top-five finish was the ninth of the season for Dale Jr.
Key Moments: Alert driving from the onset helped Junior avoid the biggest wreck of the evening -- a nine-car pile-up on the second lap that nearly took out the #8 car before it ever reached top speed. Clear from the wreckage, Junior made his charge, using pit strategy under the fifth caution to jump from 11th to first. He would not fall worse than seventh the rest of the night despite wacky cautions and multiple pit strategies that were a direct result of the smaller 13-gallon fuel cells mandated for this race. Junior at one point found himself as one of only four drivers on the lead lap when the yellow flag flew just prior to a scheduled green-flag pit stop, hence trapping those who had already made pit stops a lap down. Two ensuing cautions sorted out the field and returned many of the front-runners to lead-lap status, but Junior remained strong for his ninth top-five of the season.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"It was a good night. It was fun, but at the same time, it was a long race. We had a great car. We could've done some different things at the end to put ourselves in position to run better, but it doesn't always work out that way. I'm real proud of my team; another top-five for this car. This car has been great for us all year. We'll probably take her to a couple more before this season is out. It's nice to put it up there and lead some laps with it, especially here. I've got a lot of family here who comes and watches, so it was cool to have a good car and showcase it a little bit."
How do you look at the points battle with five races to go? "We're fine. Jeff Burton is not new to this, and he obviously does everything he needs to do on the race track. It'll be tough to win the championship just because of the competition, but we're definitely within striking range of all these guys. This weekend was a huge help for us to put ourselves in that position."
Best Radio Chatter:
One of the weirdest -- and most dangerous -- cautions of recent history came out on lap 16 when NASCAR control restarted the race with safety trucks still on the track from the previous yellow flag:
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Caution's out! They started the race with cleanup trucks on the track!"
Dale Jr.: "Are the trucks broke?"
Hmiel: "I don't know what they were thinking. They should've never started it."
Tony Jr. (thinking back to Friday night's Busch Series race, where the mid-race restarting order was fumbled up and NASCAR needed a 10-minute red-flag period to sort it out): "It's been a baaaaad two days."
Because of the multitude of two-tire and fuel-only pit strategies, pit road was often cluttered and chaotic. The Bud car had several close calls exiting its #7 pit stall, including once during the eighth caution on lap 164:
Dale Jr.: "These fuel cells are causing hell on pit road."
Tony Jr.: "Ten-four on that."
Dale Jr.: "We could run a few more gallons, know what I mean? So everybody didn't come for a splash after running only two laps. They could give us a couple more gallons. It doesn't have to be 22 (gallons). It's getting a little dangerous down there for the pit road guys."
Hmiel: "Another smart deal on pit road, Tony Jr. We've got too good a car to tear it up on pit road. If a couple (cars) get by us, we'll be fine."
Green-flag pit stops were well underway when the ninth caution flew on lap 242. Most had already completed their stops; Dale Jr. was on his way, but the heads-up spotting of Steve Hmiel nullified the stop. The result was Dale Jr. being one of only four drivers on the lead lap:
Hmiel: "Cautions out, keep going. Don't stop, don't stop."
Tony Jr.: "Great job. We're OK. We've got three laps (of fuel), so just take it easy out there."
Hmiel: "I had to tell him to go Tony Jr., I didn't think you were too close (on fuel).
Tony Jr.: "You did excellent Steve. That's why I love you up there. (Pause) OK guys. Be smooth here and take care of your stuff, because we're on a lap by ourselves. This is pretty cool. When we come out, there will be nine cars on the tail end of the lead lap."
Dale Jr.: "The 9 (Kasey Kahne) is on the lead lap with us."
Tony Jr. (watching the replay of the wreck): Mark Martin just took one of the hardest licks I've ever seen."
Hmiel: "I guess the 18 was trying to pit and ran right into the 6, right Tony Jr.?"
Tony Jr.: "I reckon that's what it was. That's what it looks like."
With the colder temperatures comes less perspiration. And with less perspiration comes, well, one less way for fluid to escape the body:
Dale Jr.: "How many laps is this race?"
Tony Jr.: "Three thirty-four."
Dale Jr.: "I gotta p*$$ like hell!"
Tony Jr.: "Then goooooo!!!!"
Dale Jr.: "No, I'm gonna hold it. This is a brand new suit. You can thank me later."